If a law enforcement officer finds an individual breaking a law, he or she may choose to arrest that person. These actions should always be based on the behavior of the individual rather than the color of her or his skin. At times when officers target based on personal characteristics, it may be a case of racial profiling. Officers are not allowed to use certain characteristics to stop or question a subject. These characteristics include national origin, religion, ethnicity and race.
Speeding on the highway
If a law enforcement officer is pulled over on the side of a highway and most vehicles are speeding, then technically all those vehicles are breaking the law by driving over the posted speed limit. If the officer decides which vehicle to pull over based on the race of the driver, then this is an example of racial profiling.
On the alternate side, if the officer is told to be on the lookout for a driver of a certain race wanted in connection with another crime or investigation, then the officer can use race to determine which vehicle to pull over.
Drug trafficking tips
If officers are given reliable information that shipments of illegal drugs are being moved at a certain spot and that pre-teens are being used to move the drugs, then the officers are not allowed to choose which area teens to detain based on their race. If the information states that pre-teens of a certain race are moving the drugs, then the officer can detain based on race.
Law enforcement officers cannot use Hispanic origin near the Mexican border when determining which individuals are undocumented immigrants and should be stopped. Regardless of how close they are to the border, they cannot use origin to stop or detain an individual.
If officers have received a reliable tip that a certain workplace has undocumented immigrants employed, then the officers can use origin to determine which to approach.
Terrorism and racial profiling
As with race, officers are not allowed to use any religion or ethnicity to target suspects. If it is a generalized assumption about the public, then all individuals must be treated the same. If officers receive a tip that an individual of a certain religion was living in a building and planning terrorist activities, then it would be acceptable to use religion as a basis for a search.
The takeaway is that officers are not allowed to use race as a means for determining whom to pull over or detain unless they have credible evidence that suggests the information is relevant. If you have been detained unlawfully or feel you've been involved in a case of racial profiling, you may benefit from speaking to an attorney.